Ever see that funny punctuation mark that looks like a music symbol? The ampersand (&) is an icon that means and. It’s often used in company names or artistic titles to save space in place of and, but we don’t see it much in formal writing.
The ampersand has an interesting history—did you know it used to be the 27th letter of the alphabet? In this guide, we talk all about the ampersand: where it comes from, when to use it, and when it’s incorrect.
What is an ampersand?
The ampersand (&) is a symbol in English that has the same meaning as the word and. It appears much less often in formal writing than in company names (Dolce & Gabbana), artistic titles (Lilo & Stitch), and other situations where spelling out and takes up too much space. That includes text messages, social media, and online posts with a character limit.
Where does the ampersand come from?
The ampersand dates back to the Roman Empire. The symbol began as a combination of the letters e and t, to represent the Latin word et, which translates to and.
It wasn’t introduced into English until the late 1700s, when it again represented the word and. By the early 1800s, the symbol was so popular it was added to the end of the English alphabet as the 27th letter.
Back then, the ampersand was just called and. When people recited the alphabet, it sounded strange to say, “x, y, z, and and.” Instead, they said, “x, y, z, and per se and,” because per se meant “by itself.”
Using per se was a way to differentiate the symbol & from the word and, both pronounced the same. It was like saying, “x, y, z, and the letter and.” This usage of per se was common at the time and was also used for other letters that doubled as individual words (such as the pronoun I and the article a).
Long story short, the phrase “and per se and” was gradually squashed together over time. By the mid-1800s, the phrase had been shortened to “ampersand,” and that’s the name that has stuck to the present day.
When to use the ampersand
1 Names and titles
The most common use of the ampersand is for official titles, such as the names of companies, movies, books, and products. Not only does the ampersand make names like this appear more sophisticated, it also saves space in writing, such as billboards, product packaging, or movie posters.
Dungeons & Dragons
Bed Bath & Beyond
2 Items in a series that use and
We use the word and as a coordinating conjunction before the last item in a series, such as lions, tigers, and bears. But what if the items in your list already use the word and? You can replace the and in the serial items with ampersands and spell out the and as a conjunction. This can make your list a little easier to read.
Our most popular sandwiches are ham & cheese, bagel & lox, and bacon & egg.
3 Certain word pairs that usually go together
Certain word pairings appear together so frequently, we’ve taken to using an ampersand when we refer to them. In particular, music genres like rock & roll or R&B use the ampersand, as does business jargon like R&D (research and development).
PB&J (peanut butter and jelly)
B&B (bed and breakfast)
4 APA citations
The APA format for writing papers incorporates the ampersand in its citation guidelines. Specifically, APA uses the ampersand for parenthetical citations and full citations that have more than one author.
Recent studies confirm that the head bone is connected to the neck bone (Marieb & Keller, 2018).
5 Informal writing
As mentioned, the ampersand isn’t always stylistically correct. Its usage depends on whether you’re working with formal or informal writing. Aside from APA citations, formal writing calls on us not to use the ampersand. However, for informal writing like personal communications or social media, the ampersand can save both typing time and text space.
Let’s relax & watch cooking shows tonite
When not to use an ampersand
1 Most formal writing
In formal writing like academic papers or business correspondence, spell out the word and instead of using the ampersand. The exception to this rule is if the ampersand is part of an official title, such as a company name.
2 With the Oxford comma
Even in informal writing, the ampersand looks out of place next to the Oxford comma. Otherwise known as the serial comma, the Oxford comma separates the last two items in a series or list. Because lists often use and, it’s tempting to replace the word with the ampersand. However, the comma and ampersand next to each other look awkward, so it’s typically avoided.
The ampersand and spacing
While we’re on the subject of grammar, there’s one final rule about the ampersand: Under normal circumstances, use spaces before and after the ampersand, just like any other individual word.
eager & excited
However, when writing an official name, like a company name or artistic title, use whatever spacing it uses. Some titles use spacing before and after the ampersand, but some do not, so just copy the source to be sure.
A&W root beer with a scoop of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream
What is an ampersand?
An ampersand (&) is a symbol that means and. It’s common in informal writing but not formal writing, although it’s often used in official titles like company names or the titles of artworks.
What is the history of the ampersand?
The ampersand originated in the Roman Empire as a symbol for the Latin word et, which means and. It was resurrected in the late 1700s and early 1800s, where it was temporarily the 27th letter of the English alphabet.
When is it appropriate to use an ampersand?
Ampersands are recommended whenever you want to save text space, which is why they’re popular for business names and artistic works. They’re also common in word pairings that often go together, like rock & roll, and they’re part of the APA guidelines for citations. However, they are inappropriate in formal writing like academic papers.